I went to my favourite cinema in town yesterday, the Landmark in Hillcrest, neighbourhood of surviving independent bookstores and gay pride parades. I hadn't been there in over a year and I was a little worried the bookstores might be gone, but they were still there and a new indie record store had opened to boot. I wish I could go to Hillcrest more often--I used to go with Trisa all the time, but now, of course, it costs around twice as much as it used to to drive across town.
I was willing to go to the expense for the new David Cronenberg movie, A Dangerous Method, but I got to the theatre five minutes late, so I saw the other Michael Fassbender movie playing there, Shame, which costars Carey Mulligan. She's an actress whose choices in films haven't let me down yet, even the Doctor Who episode she was in was a cut above average, and Shame was no aberration. Shame is very much an actor's film, too. More Fassbender's than Mulligan's, but both are crucial.
Brandon (Fassbender) and Sissy (Mulligan) are a pair of sibling nymphomaniacs. Well, I'm not sure it's proper to use that word. Almost every review and synopsis for the film says it's about sex addiction, but I think the film may make the argument that such appellations are deceptively simplistic. For one thing, the siblings' compulsions manifest very differently.
Sissy says once to Brandon, "We're not bad people, we just come from a bad place," and this is the only mention of how, presumably, their childhood has influenced their modes of living in adulthood. And it's all that's really needed, because what the two have in common is that each is a person trying to figure out how to give and receive love. For Brandon, the closest he can come to intimacy is by orgasm. We see him constantly hiring prostitutes and jerking off to myriad pornography.*
For Sissy, the problem manifests in extreme co-dependency. Brandon overhears her leaving a desperate phone message for a man at one point, crying, proclaiming her love and saying she doesn't know what's wrong with her.
It's a subtly told story, a lot of it is in actors exchanging facial expressions. And, as the movie is NC-17, a lot of it is in sex scenes. If you're looking for a movie to point to as a counterargument to people who say sex scenes in films are always awkward and distracting, this is one. There's one scene in particular I thought was brilliant, where Brandon tries to have a go with what he sees as a healthier, loving relationship and he tries to make love to woman. It's a scene that takes place in one rather long take and it's some of the most tender, convincing simulated sex I've seen. Actually, it was a lot more convincing than some real sex I've seen. And it illuminated Brandon's troubles perfectly, in a way a movie couldn't do while avoiding explicit sex scenes.
There are a few conspicuous "Oscar moments", some moments where Fassbender gets a bit more emotive than serves the story, but yes, give this guy an Oscar. Not just for showing his penis on camera, either--the movie rests on his and Mulligan's subtle and intensely communicative performances. Particularly Fassbender's. There are few such amazing portraits of a man stranded in the Hell of himself.
*One of the flaws of this film is how unacquainted the filmmakers seemed with sensible porn purveyance. I mean, I'm not even talking about compulsive levels, just listening to Howard Stern for a few days would've given these folks a useful perspective. Here are some pointers I'd give Brandon;
1) Stop buying magazines. What are you, from 1980? There's so much free porn on the internet, there's no point in keeping a stash of hardcopies you're obviously ashamed of.
2) Stop saving porn on your hard drive. There's no end to free porn. Really.
3) If you insist on paying money for internet porn, it's probably not a good idea to just leave the meter running on a camgirl session while you're away from the computer for an extended period of time. This won't just save you money, it'll also prevent your sister from sitting down in front of the computer and being forcibly made aware of habits you'd evidently like to keep secret.